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Get hooked on sustainable seafood

On a beautiful summer’s day, a customer bounds into Hooked, in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood, raving to owner Dan Donovan that last night’s dinner of grilled salmon was phenomenal. He just had to come back for more. But fish from this store doesn’t just taste great. It’s also good for the environment. Hooked only sells fish caught using sustainable methods and from sustainable sources.

Donovan and his wife, Kristin, opened their store in March. At first, selling sustainable seafood day-in, day-out didn’t seem possible. None of the large suppliers they contacted were willing to deliver them ethically sourced seafood. So Donovan, a chef, turned to his network of chef colleagues and put together a patchwork of sources that supply the store.

‘People aren’t accustomed to seeing a whole fish. “We like to show the connection back to where the product came from”, says Donovan.’

“It’s our job to find a functional replacement for unsustainable product and we struggle with that sometimes,” Donovan says. “Some days the boats don’t get anything; that’s the nature of the industry.” He spends up to five hours a day speaking with processors on both coasts and works closely with sustainable seafood organizations such as Vancouver’s Ocean Wise, Halifax’s Ecology Action Centre and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

Hooked doesn’t sell any products that are identified as endangered, or “red listed” by environmental groups. And it only stocks seafood that has been harvested in a way that minimizes impact on the environment. That means fishermen who supply Hooked use only fishing methods such as line caught and purse seine. These methods eliminate or reduce what’s known as bycatch–birds, turtles and juvenile fish caught unintentionally in the nets.

Surely doing business this way makes running a store tougher, right? Donovan says no. Like a produce manager who’s got his local farmer on speed dial, Donovan’s able to get fresh seafood to his store faster. Take today, for example. It’s one o’clock in the afternoon and, says Donovan, he’s about to buy product arriving in Vancouver that’ll be picked up tomorrow morning and brought into the store.

To critics who charge that his business is doing nothing to eliminate its carbon footprint by air freighting fresh fish from all over, Donovan acknowledges that transport is a problem. But over the next three years he hopes to change negative consumer attitudes toward frozen fish. “The future of sustainable seafood is partly in freezing and the Japanese have taught us the proper way to do that. So part of our agenda is learning ways to handle frozen product,” says Donovan.

The store sells 30 of its own prepared seasonings and sauces. “We used to make sauce for people in-store…it grew to be so popular that we started packing them up.”

Donovan and his staff , who are all trained chefs, also love to chat up shoppers about fish and how to cook different types. Moreover, the store sells some 30 sauces to make preparation that much easier, and will be offering cooking classes in the future. “Grocery stores’ expectations are that you know how to cook,” he says. “Their role has never been to teach you how to cook, while we know that it’s part of our job.”

Sounds like a good way to get consumers even more hooked on sustainable seafood.

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